Perhaps one of the biggest series to launch this fall, the premiere of Fox’s Gotham had high expectations to live up to. We’ve seen Batman’s origin story countless times and it was important that Bruno Heller, the series’ creator, brought something new to the viewers. I’ve been a Batman fan for years and went into the show with an open mind. Was it the series the source material deserved? Well, yes and no.
The show stars Ben McKenzie as James Gordon, a new detective in the homicide division of the Gotham City Police Department. He is partnered with Harvey Bullock, played delightfully greasy by Donal Logue, who appears to be a lazy, corrupt officer. The two butt heads immediately but are called to investigate one of the highest profile homicides Gotham has ever seen: the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It’s here that Gordon is introduced to a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and gets entangled in a dangerous web of gangsters, politicians, and members of the police force.
I won’t spoil all of the character introductions, but we’ve known that the rise of Oswald Cobblepot is a big part of the show. Robin Lord Taylor shines here as one of the highlights of the pilot. He is the servant of Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), who herself is an employee of the crime boss Carmine Falcone. There’s a power struggle hinted at here and Oswald obviously desires to claw his way to the top of the crime family. Taylor plays the multifaceted character perfectly whether he is being a pathetic servant, a suave negotiator, or a vicious killer.
The show is at its best when it deviates from what we’ve seen in the Batman films. For example, Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth is neither prim nor proper. Rather, he is a tough, protective figure who seems more intent on toughening Bruce than serving him. It calls to mind the character’s depiction in Geoff John’s Batman: Earth One. It’s not a new idea, but it’s just different enough to interest viewers.
Unfortunately, as interesting Oswald and Alfred are, the show’s main character is incredibly dull. Gordon seems set on doing what is right, regardless of any circumstance. There isn’t much else to his character in the pilot. His dialogue is stiff and cliched. McKenzie needs to take command of the screen if he doesn’t want to be overshadowed by the show’s rogues gallery. The show struggles to stay interesting when it follows Gordon through his police work. The draw of the show may be the Batman universe, but the focus on the GCPD means the investigations will have to be more interesting if the show wants to retain its viewers.
The pilot also struggles with the plotline of the first episode. Rather than having a tight plotline woven with references, the show is disjointed and repeatedly points out references for the fans. I understand that it is a pilot and has to set up the universe, but I’ve seen many pilots do it more cohesively. With so many introductions, I’m nervous the characters will not be fleshed out appropriately through the series.
All in all, the pilot was pretty average. There’s nothing about it that will blow viewers away. Despite some standout performances, the episode seemed to drag on. It’s crammed with references and lays the groundwork for the future of the series, but it doesn’t do enough to keep the viewer’s interest presently. The writing on the show ranges from brilliant to embarrassing and I hope that the dialogue is improved in future episodes. The premiere relies heavily on the Batman license to succeed, but it can’t lean on that license forever. It needs to become an interesting and worthy show in its own right.